By Woo Jae-yeon
SEOUL, July 13 (Yonhap) -- Less than a decade ago, a foreigner who could talk freely in Korean was such a rarity that anyone pulling it off was treated almost like a star.
Now, so much has changed that it has became nothing unusual to see Korean-speaking foreigners joining with locals to fluently discuss various topics on TV programs.
On Tuesday, American Mark Tetto and Italian Alberto Mondi, two of the members from the popular TV show "Non-Summit," came onto a stage to do just that in a "talk concert," a popular meet-and-discuss program format in the country where participants share their ideas in a more relaxed setting in front of an audience.
They were invited to talk about "Korean Wave 3.0," a term that refers to the export of Korean culture in general. The rise of Korean dramas and films in early 2000s is "Korean Wave 1.0" and that of K-pop is 2.0.
During the talk, the two TV personalities discussed their life in Korea, challenges of learning the language, and their take on the development of the global understanding of Korean culture. Two Koreans, professor Seo Kyoung-duk and comedian Seo Kyung-seok, joined them.
The event was part of the eighth World Korean Educators Conference that opened Tuesday at the National Museum of Korea, hosted by the King Sejong Institute, a state-supported Korean language training organization. The annual conference is aimed at educating Korean teachers and improving global cooperation in Korean education.
Mondi, who has been living in Korea for nine years and is married to a Korean woman, said he first knew about the country through Kim Ki-duk's films. The Korean director gained international fame as he won a slew of awards from many prestigious international film festivals, most notably for "Pieta." It received a "Golden Lion" at the Venice Film Festival in 2012.
"Although Korean culture is not mainstream in Italy, it certainly has hardcore followers," he said, adding that Psy's "Gangnam Style" greatly helped raise Italians' awareness of and interest in Korea.
Originally from Venice, he also said the opening of a Sejong school in his hometown, which didn't exist while he was living there, demonstrates the raised profile of the Asian country in Italy.
For Tetto, his first encounter with Korea was through the Korean alphabet.
One day, he accidentally saw the language written on a whiteboard in his college dormitory. He couldn't make it out at all but still found it very attractive.
"I wondered, 'what is this language?' and wanted to know more about it."
He befriended Korean students in his school and later had a chance to watch "My Sassy Girl," a popular romantic comedy that has been recently remade in Hollywood. He said he loved the movie so much that he watched it more than five times. That started his long-running love affair with the country.
Having lived in Korea for 10 years now, Princeton-educated Tetto is a Partner at TCK, a private investment office based in Seoul and London, in charge of investor relations and investment strategies review.
His favorite Korean expression is "gosaeng-hada," he said, which literally means "endure hardship." The expression is widely used in everyday life in the country in many different circumstances to convey emotional support and empathy but is tricky to translate into English.
One time, he wanted to use the expression with an American colleague who was obviously very tired from a long flight but he couldn't find the right corresponding English expression.
Hearing the episode, the comedian Seo said, "You would never know the expression unless you have a deep understanding of the culture."
The professor Seo chipped in by saying, "In the 1970s and 80s, Korean companies tried to conceal the origin of their products because no one knew Korea. It is amazing to see Korea, as an equal partner, can connect with other countries through Korean culture and language."
The conference, attended by around 300 teachers, Sejong school personnel and officials, runs until Friday. For three days from Wednesday till Friday, training sessions are given to Sejong officials in southern Seoul.
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